CHIANG RAI – They will gather for the first time today in Chiang Rai, Thailand, as the Energy HR/EHBS team, to compete in the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Cup Women’s Tour of Thailand 2014, which begins tomorrow, although the team’s five women members can also count in some ways to be representing Singapore.
As the men wrapped up their six-stage Tour yesterday, with the OCBC Singapore Professional Team returning with two podiums and a brief grasp of the General Classification yellow jersey, the women’s team will begin their three-stage UCI (International Cycling Union)-rated event aiming to pull off a surprise or two.
Australian Sarah-Jeanne Fraser is the prime mover behind assembling this team, which will include compatriot Julia Kolatas, American Aiyana Currie and Singaporeans Wendy Yap and Serene Lee.
Singapore’s top woman cyclist Dinah Chan was originally slated to take part but elected to go for a training stint in Perth ahead of her participation in the Asian Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, next month, and September’s Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Fraser, 37, is also the team’s sponsor as she is the Director of Energy HR Asia Pacific and has been based here for the past year. The Perth native assembled the team eight weeks ago to take up the rare opportunity of racing in a UCI event for women.
No stranger to racing, Fraser managed a men’s team in the Tour of Thailand previously and won the women’s Elite Criterium at the OCBC Cycle Singapore here 10 days ago, ahead of Currie.
For Fraser, the opportunity to also be in the saddle competing was hard to pass up, especially if she could have Singaporean riders as part of her team.
“The important thing about this Tour of Thailand is that Singapore is getting a representation in an international field of professional bike riders, which I’ve not seen much at all,” she said.
“It’s a good opportunity for the cycling world to see that women in Singapore can do it.
“We’ve been invited before, but I’ve never been able to round up enough girls to make a team, but it has been easier here.”
What has not been easy was for the three Singapore-based riders to train while holding full-time jobs.
Currie, 37, does foreign exchange sales for Swiss bank UBS while Yap is a judicial officer with the Supreme Court. For Fraser, there is also the matter of monitoring her team’s two Australia-based riders, Lee (Melbourne) and Kolatas (Perth), who are both students.
“At this level, these girls have their own coaches and programmes that they are following,” she said.
“Once we knew we were racing, those programmes were adjusted accordingly and there is an element of trust that these girls are following their training to instruction.”
Working to a training programme designed by Fraser, Yap, who is a former national long-distance runner, is making her UCI race debut and looking forward to step up from just being a serious rider.
“Certainly, I’d like to know what it’s like to race at that level and it’s a hard-to-come-by opportunity especially for Singapore riders,” said the 42-year-old.
Tactically, the team will work to support Kolatas, who is a sprinter, and Lee, who represented Singapore at the 2011 South-east Asian Games in Indonesia, whom they fancy as their lead rider on General Classification.
“We should come home with something … we rate our sprinter,” said Fraser, who pledged to donate half her winnings to the Singapore Cancer Foundation.
“The three stages are flat and fall in line with the distances we train, but the biggest challenge is backing it up three days in a row … by the third day we should be all very tired.”
Currie, meanwhile, has little doubt what she is looking forward to.
“The nice thing about bike racing is it’s all about the team. That we have a sprinter to support makes it all the more exciting,” she said.
“And when I’m feeling pain, I know it is something we’re all going through and we’re working towards a common goal.”
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Cup Women’s Tour of Thailand 2014
Apr 8: Stage 1 – 110km Chiangrai loop
Apr 9: Stage 2 – 82km Mae Chan Tam Bol municipality loop
Apr 10: Stage 3 – 83km Mae Chan Tam Bol municipality-Mar Sae-Chiang Saen-Mae Chan Tam Bol municipality